Thursday, November 04, 2004

As the Gavel Strikes -- Chapter Two: The Depths

(Chapter One)

Two days had passed since Martha had broken the news to Clark. Unfortunately, Clark was not taking things very well. Granted it was a late Sunday afternoon but he didn’t usually spend his weekends like this.

Clark stumbled upright from his prone position on the couch, knocking various cans and beer bottles off the coffee table. In his hand he held the empty aluminum husk of another victim, another soldier lost in his war of attrition. But which would give up first, Clark’s thirst for self-flagellating depression or the beers in his fridge?

Weaving his way to the great white lord of the liquor, Clark opened the door to see his last two comrades in arm, two bottles of Sam. He blindly grabbed one, quickly opening it and downing some of its contents, savoring the mind-numbing coolness.

As he stood in front of the open fridge, he vaguely heard a ringing sound in the background. Some small part of his mind, perhaps the remnants of his long-passed sobriety, recognized the noise as relating to his front door. Someone was ringing his doorbell.

He pushed the fridge door closed and attempted to find his front door. The ringing persisted, feeding his pursuit and his temper. Eventually he located the front door and, after unlocking it, impatiently pulled it open, squinting his eyes against the bright sunlight. All he could see was the outline of a woman with long, flowing hair.

"Mr. Smith? Is that you?" Laura stared at the man standing before her. He looked bedraggled, his dress shirt unbuttoned and covered with various stains, a white undershirt, likewise mottled, showing underneath. The man obviously had not shaved or showered in quite a few days, she noted to herself, as his unkempt odor wafted through the door. With that malodorous breeze came the foul smell of beer and liquor and a hint of cigarettes.

"Mr. Smith?" Clark's eyes tried to focus on this vixen before him. He vaguely recognized her long, blonde hair, gleaming with reflected sunlight. Her face likewise seemed familiar, someone he should know. She was shorter than him by a few inches, though less so by the heels she was wearing. He attempted a witty response to her inquisitive tone.

"Huh? Whattayouwant?"

Laura flinched from the foul smell of his breath. She thought to herself, how low he had fallen. Martha must have done quite a number on him. It wasn't every day that she called upon her boss at home to see how he was doing. In fact, she had never done this before, ringing his doorbell and visiting with him outside of the office. The most social thing they had done before was get dinner on Secretary’s Day. But after leaving him three messages on his cell phone, she had decided to see what had happened to him, see if he was at his condo.

She replied, "that bad, huh?" Clark's eyes betrayed his apparent confusion. She tried to poke through his veil of puzzlement. "Clark, it's me, Laura... your secretary?"

Clark's mind attempted to whir with hidden cogs, grown slow and rusty by alcohol and pain. "Oh. Right. Laura. What..? Why you here?"

She could see his mind attempting to formulate a coherent inquiry. Sighing out loud, she decided to be a bit pushy in the face of his inebriation. "Look, can I come in?" Without waiting for a response, she swept past him into his den. Clark seemed to understand that she was here for some reason and pushed the door closed behind her, stumbling into the den behind her.

Laura eyed the scene before her: empty cans and bottles strewn about the table and floor. A half-eaten pizza still in the box. An assortment of dirty dishes and bowls in various stages of culturing new specimens of bacteria. Noting that his easy chair remained relatively free of debris, she lightly tossed her black coat over its back and turned back to face the occupant of this Hell-hole.

"Clark, what happened to you?" Laura watched as he took a swig of his newly-opened bottle. She reached out and snatched it from his grasp.

"Whattayadoin? Give me that!"

"No, from the looks of things you've had more than enough. Let's get some coffee and food into you. Alright?"

She gently pushed him back into the easy chair. Clark fell backwards into it, sitting there with a blank look on his face.

"Whas going on? What-"

"Look. Clark, I heard what happened. I ran into John yesterday and he told me everything. I had to come over and see how you were taking it. Judging from the look of the things, it’s a good thing I showed up. We’re going to get you some coffee, maybe get you a sandwich and a shower, some clean clothing, and get you out of here. The last thing you need is to be left alone here. So don’t argue with me. Just sit there while I get you some food and drink."

Something must have broken through Clark's wall of drunkenness. He recognized her and her purpose. Some part of him agreed with her and he sat in the chair, trying very hard not to fall out of it. In the background he heard the sounds of kitchen cabinets opening and closing. The smell of fresh coffee slowly wafted through the rooms, bringing him a little closer to full consciousness. Laura shortly emerged from his kitchen, bearing a mug of steaming coffee.

"Here, work on this while I finish your sandwich."

He took the mug as if it were a precious commodity, reverently sipping its contents and enjoying the warmth that came with its consumption. A few minutes later, Laura came back again, this time with a sandwich on a plate and a paper napkin.

"All I found was some ham so I put it on your wheat bread with lettuce and mustard."

Clark took the plate, careful not to spill its contents on the floor. He slowly ate the sandwich while Laura began the enviable task of cleaning up his den. Once he finished the food, Laura took the empty plate from him and gently led him in the direction of what she assumed was his bedroom.

"Take a shower and get dressed. We’re going out." She closed the door on him and returned to cleaning the den.

By the time Clark emerged from his bedroom, having washed and shaved, sporting a clean button-down shirt and slacks, his den had been transformed, much like himself. The garbage was bagged, the plates and glasses in the dishwasher, the empty bottles and cans in a separate bag for recycling. Laura was calmly sitting in the easy chair, rifling through an ATLA magazine.

She looked up at him and gently smiled. He looked at her a moment before speaking, noting how her blue-green eyes twinkled lightly in the afternoon sunlight streaming through his windows.

"Laura, I.. thank you," he stammered out, embarrassed.

She stood up easily and looked him in the eye. "You're welcome, Clark," she said, nodding at his thanks. "Let's get out of here. Come on."

She picked up her coat and purse, leading the way to his front door. Clark took a dark trench coat from his closet and his keys and wallet from the table nearby. Turning off the lights, he shut his front door behind them.